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Undocumented Aliens Remarks on Transmitting a Message to the Congress.

August 04, 1977

I have an announcement to make this afternoon, and then following my brief statement, the Attorney General and the Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Labor Secretary will answer your questions.

Within this last decade, the problem of undocumented aliens or illegal aliens or undocumented workers has become increasingly severe. It now comprises a total of literally millions of people who have come into our country against the law and who are still in the United States.

Last year alone, 875,000 undocumented workers were apprehended by the immigration officials, and the estimates are that only one out of three coming into our country are actually caught.

Last month alone, in San Diego County, 35,000 undocumented workers were apprehended, and this is a 25-percent increase over last year. So, the problem is not only severe but it's getting worse.

I'm today sending the Congress a message on this complex problem of undocumented aliens. As you may know, we've been studying this problem for the last several months, and the Congress has been working on it for the last several years.

I'm proposing actions that would meet four major needs: first of all, to regain greater control over our own borders; secondly, to limit employment opportunities of those who are illegally in our country and who are competing with American workers for scarce jobs; third, the registration and the regulation of the millions of undocumented workers who are already here; and, fourth, improving cooperation with countries from which these undocumented workers are coming into our own Nation.

The proposals that I'm making to Congress fulfill each of these needs. First of all, border controls would be improved by adding at least 2,000 additional enforcement officers at the borders and by concentrating their presence where the crossing of our borders is most likely. Also, we will target our efforts against smuggling rings which now provide entry of undocumented aliens into our country.

Secondly, the employment opportunities would be limited by prohibiting employers, with strong civil penalties, from hiring undocumented aliens. The Justice Department would be responsible for the enforcement of the laws against these employers who habitually hire undocumented aliens, and if they violated court orders, of course, they would also be subject to criminal penalties.

In the process, we must be fair to the Latin American, Chinese-American, and other citizens who are here legally, so that an employer might not discriminate against them simply because of their racial origin.

We want to get as many of the millions of undocumented aliens as possible registered. And the inducement for this and a step that would give us tangible benefits would be to give them status which they do not presently enjoy--legal status.

Those who have been in this country since before 1970 would be eligible for permanent resident status and might start their 5-year process ultimately to become United States citizens. Those who entered between 1970 and 1977 would be eligible for temporary status, permitting them to remain here and to work, but on a temporary basis only. Those entering since the beginning of 1977 would be subject to immediate deportation.

The last point--to increase employment opportunities in the home countries from which the undocumented aliens come. We will work with the Government of Mexico--already are--and with other nations involved, to develop economic and technical assistance programs so it might be more attractive for undocumented workers who are here to go back to their home countries and others to refrain from coming here illegally.

I hope that the Congress will move quickly on these proposals so that the actions can take effect very soon. We've worked very closely with the congressional leaders, and in the House, Congressman Rodino and Congressman Eilberg will sponsor this legislation. In the Senate, Senator Jim Eastland from Mississippi and Senator Ted Kennedy will sponsor the legislation. They have already told me that they will do it enthusiastically, and prompt hearings will begin on this subject.

I'd like to turn the rostrum over now to the other Government officials who will answer your questions about this matter.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. to reporters assembled in the Briefing Room at the White House. Following his remarks, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, and Leonel Gastillo, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, held a news conference for reporters on the President's message.

Jimmy Carter, Undocumented Aliens Remarks on Transmitting a Message to the Congress. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243707

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